Australian government pumps $1bn into health and family violence services as coronavirus spreads | Australia news


The Morrison government will expand funding for telehealth, domestic violence support and mental health services, as well as boosting the emergency relief delivered through charities and community organisations, as the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Australia passes 3,600 and the national death toll stands at 14.

The government announced on Sunday morning that it is allocating more than $1bn to a range of support services, including $669m to expand Medicare-subsidised telehealth services and $150m under the national domestic violence initiative. The government says there has been a surge in the number of Google searches looking for support services for domestic violence during the pandemic.

The bulk billing incentive for GPs providing telehealth consultations during the crisis will be doubled. The government will also provide an incentive payment to ensure practices stay open to provide face-to-face services when necessary. The funding boost will be in place until the end of September.

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Mental health programs will be boosted by $74m, including $10m for a dedicated coronavirus wellbeing support line, delivered by Beyond Blue, to help people experiencing concern due to a coronavirus diagnosis, or experiencing stress or anxiety due to employment changes, business closure, financial difficulties, family pressures or other challenges.

An additional $14m will go to mental health support providers, including $5m for Lifeline and $2m for Kids Helpline. The government says mental health support services have experienced an unprecedented surge in call volumes during the pandemic.

The government is promising dedicated support services for health workers, and an additional $10m for the community visitors scheme to ensure elderly people in aged care aren’t isolated by coronavirus-related restrictions on visitors. The government says the funding will mean extra staff can be engaged to train volunteer visitors to connect with elderly people online and the the phone.

A community support package worth $200m will scale up services through the national debt helpline and increase funding to food relief organisations to source additional food and transport for emergency relief service providers.

In a statement, the prime minister, Scott Morrison, said the funding would flow immediately.

“As we battle coronavirus on both the health and economic fronts with significant support packages in place and more to come, I am very aware many Australians are understandably anxious, stressed and fearful about the impacts of coronavirus and what it brings,” he said.

“We are focused on saving lives and saving livelihoods and this new support package will provide much needed care and help to so many Australians facing hardship at no fault of their own.”

As well as the support package outlined on Sunday, the government is working up a third round of safety net measures on the assumption that swathes of the economy will move into a period of suspended animation as lockdowns take effect.

Conceptually, the government wants to ensure that businesses don’t emerge from the pandemic with substantial liabilities on their books that would force them to either declare bankruptcy or sack substantial numbers of workers.

Restrictions already in place to slow the spread of coronavirus have caused a major economic shock and triggered thousands of local job losses over the past week, and the government has unveiled two stimulus packages over the past three weeks worth $189bn.

Job shedding is gathering pace. Myer announced late on Friday night it would shut its stores, and on Saturday the clothing stores Country Road and Cotton On, and the stationery store kikki.K followed suit. Total job losses across Australia now exceed 75,000.

Morrison has acknowledged that further lockdowns will be required in New South Wales and Victoria to try to prevent an acceleration of community transmissions of the virus. NSW, Victoria and the ACT have signalled more restrictions are on the way.

On Friday the prime minister hinted further restrictions to enforce social distancing will likely be accompanied by a third round of economic support from Canberra.

On Friday, the government said Australian citizens and residents returning from overseas would be forced to quarantine in hotels in a bid to stop returning passengers breaching existing self-isolation requirements. Those arrangements came into effect midnight Saturday.